About those “rotten to the core” Winnipeg Jets…cranking up the gossip mill…putting Wheeler and others on ignore…parting gifts instead of banners for the Habs…nothing but bridesmaids in Canada?…talking about Ponytail Puck…and lady golfers at Augusta

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and you are under no obligation to grow a beard during the Winnipeg Jets playoff run…

Apparently, the local hockey heroes have issues.

They might be Dr. Phil-level issues. They might be let’s-drag-Oprah’s-couch-out-of-storage-and-give-everyone-in-the-audience-a-gift issues. They might be order-another-pint-and-vent-to-a-bartender issues. Whatever the case, after a week of stick-shattering hissy fits, an airing of grievances behind closed doors, giving news snoops the cold shoulder, and canceled practices for the airing of additional grievances, we’re advised that the Winnipeg Jets are not right in the head.

It’s nothing specific, understand. No details. Just a strong suggestion from the boys on the beat at the Drab Slab that les Jets have come undone like a school kid’s shoelace.

And we all know what happens with kids and undone shoelaces, don’t we. That’s right. Face plants.

So I suppose Jets Nation should fear the worst as Winnipeg HC preps for its opening salvo of Beard Season vs. the St. Louis Blues. I mean, it can’t be very comforting for the rabble to learn that the behind-the-scenes situation with their favorite National Hockey League club is “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy” as they enter the Stanley Cup runoff.

That, at least, is the picture painted by Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press, and you can choose to believe him or pooh-pooh his take on the local lads. I mean, he ought to have some insider intel because he’s been dogging the local lads across North America since October, but, at the same time, Double M fell short of providing anecdotal evidence of squabbling in the inner sanctum. He merely referenced Multiple Sources who, along with Reliable Sources, is every reporter’s go-to informant when no one is willing to say what needs to be said out loud.

Let’s accept that he’s accurate, though, and Winnipeg HC is a house divided. Does that mean les Jets best-of-seven playoff assignment vs. St. Louis beginning Wednesday at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is a no-hoper? Not at all.

Allow me to direct your attention to the Winnipeg Jets circa 1978-79.

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Those of a certain vintage will recall the unique makeup of that outfit, in that it was actually two teams in one. On the heels of their second World Hockey Association title, les Jets were scuttled by a number of defections, most notably Ander Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to Gotham. To shore up a depleted roster, management purchased the nucleus of a Houston Aeros franchise that had gone belly up, with Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich and Scotty Campbell among the recruits.

It was a stroke of genius. Except for one thing: To say the Houston guys and the Winnipeg holdovers got along is to say hard-core Beatles fans were giddy when the dreaded Yoko Ono showed up on John’s arm one day. Some, myself included, still think of that as the day the music died, but I digress.

The Aeros-Jets had been fierce rivals on the freeze, and the residue of bitterly contested battles won and lost still existed when they began to share a changing room. Larry Hillman, the head coach of the day, could do nothing to achieve détente, in part because the Houston portion of the amalgamated roster was doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

“You don’t think the rest of the players in this league don’t know that?” Robbie Ftorek said one night after he and the Cincinnati Stingers had laid a licking on les Jets.

Tom McVie

It wasn’t until Tom McVie arrived in River City, bull whip in hand behind the bench, that the boys clued in and began working in concert, a collaboration that resulted in an unlikely third WHA championship.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich told me the night the Jets put away the Edmonton Gretzkys to gain permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski confirmed.

So, when they drop the puck for the Jets and Blues skirmish, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the “rotten to the core” home side. Even squabbling outfits can get the job done.

Mind you, it would help if these Jets had Ruskowski, Lukowich, Preston and Campbell on board.

Coach Potty Mouth

You can dismiss McIntyre’s essay as nothing more than click-bait sensationalism, if you like, but my only issue with him is this snippet: “I’m not about to start feeding the rumor mill…” Good gawd, man, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Use the terms “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy”—especially without supporting quotes and/or facts—and you’ve got rumor and innuendo running faster than a scalded dog. Are the players PO’d because Patrik Laine spends more time playing Fortnite than backchecking? Has coach Potty Mouth lost the dressing room? Whose track suit is Dustin Byfuglien dunking in the ice tub? Gossip, gossip, gossip. And if les Jets don’t get past the Blues, it’ll really crank up.

Craig Button of TSN had this to say about les Jets in advance of the Stanley Cup tournament: “They’re a weak team giving up a lot of goals. They’re the weakest (Western Conference) team going into the playoffs.” Ouch. That’s “anything but rosy.”

Blake Wheeler

After all the pomp, the praise, the worship, the Sportsnet headlines, the tributes, the mattress commercials, and the blah, blah, blah about John Tavares, he finished with three fewer points than Blake Wheeler’s 91. Now, I don’t buy the pre-fab bunk that players in Good Ol’ Hometown fly under the radar, because people around the league know what Wheeler has done. But I will submit that les Jets captain gets ignored. But, then, so do other elite performers with Canadian-based outfits. Five of them—Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Johnny Gaudreau, Mitch Marner and Wheeler—outscored Tavares this season, yet all but McDavid received less than half the ink devoted to the Tranna Maple Leafs centre by national media. Just saying.

If you’re keeping score at home, another of the over-ballyhooed Leafs, Auston Matthews, scored at a clip of 1.07 points per game. Twenty players were as good or better. Again, just saying.

Just wondering: Can Dave Poulin of TSN talk without holding a pen in his hand?

Sam Pollock

I keep hearing pundits say this was a successful season for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sorry, but I don’t follow. I mean, the Habs will be on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the playoff fun commences this week. When did parting gifts replace championship banners as a suitable reward for the most storied franchise in NHL history? It’s like Tom Hanks being happy about losing an Oscar to Adam Sandler. I swear, ol’ Sammy Pollock must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Really strange headline No. 1: “Jets’ Patrik Laine evolves from sublime scorer to all-around player.” Ya, Puck Finn is an all-around player like a box of Timbits is a seven-course meal.

Really strange headline No. 2: “Even Oilers not stupid enough to trade Connor McDavid.” No, the Edmonton Oilers would never be so dumb as to deal away Connor McDavid. You know, just like they would never be so dumb as to trade away Wayne Gretzky.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith. A truly gifted writer. It’s just that sometimes he totally loses the plot. Like his take on the rise of Canadian tennis teens Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov: “Our tennis was becoming like everything else this country does on the international stage—a strong second.” Right. We’re always the bridesmaid in sports like hockey and curling. As if. And Brooke Henderson, Penny Oleksiak, Clara Hughes, Donovan Bailey, Mike Weir, Virtue and Moir, Mikael Kingsbury, Percy Williams, Daniel Nestor, Lennox Lewis, Barbara Ann Scott, Nancy Greene, the Crazy Canucks, Cindy Klassen, Susan Nattrass, Jim Elder, Northern Dancer, Steve Nash, Larry Walker, Jacques Villeneuve, etc….I guess they all finished second best, too. Come on, man, give your head a shake.

So nice of mainstream media to finally notice women’s hockey in a non-Olympics year. Too bad it took the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to grab their attention. I think their newly discovered interest in Ponytail Puck was best summed up in a tweet from Diana Matheson, a member of our women’s national soccer side: “Speaks volumes to the problem that my initial response to a discussion about women’s hockey on the radio, is to be surprised they are talking about it.” Now we’ll see if the MSM attention span lasts long enough to actually cover whatever teams emerge from the ashes of the CWHL.

And, finally, scientists say Canada is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. In other weather news, women golfed at Augusta National this weekend, so hell just froze over.

About Paul Friesen peeing on Corn Flakes…is it 2021 already?…what does Brooke Henderson have to do?…goofy stuff from the Globe and Mail…Argonauts’ 44th head coach is back-page news…the myth of Tranna bias at Sportsnet…and Bob Cole is no Sinatra

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…because I couldn’t find anything better to do at 2 o’clock this a.m….

Got a giggle out of the reaction to a recent column by old friend Paul Friesen, whose refusal to wave pom-poms while writing essays about the Winnipeg Jets tends to put many knickers in many knots.

If you missed it, the Winnipeg Sun columnist had the (apparent) bad manners to inform his readers that the local shinny lads have been feasting on National Hockey League bottom feeders this crusade. Friesen even supplied concrete evidence (they’re known as facts in his business) to support the notion that les Jets have been kicking sand in the faces of 98-lb. weaklings.

Well, don’t you just know that a segment of the rabble was aghast. Facts be damned!

“So you have to pee in our Corn Flakes,” wrote one Twitter follower, no doubt guzzling a gallon of official Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid as he typed.

“Shocker! Paul Friesen concentrated on the cloud as opposed to the silver lining,” wrote another who made no mention of Paul piddling on anything resembling breakfast cereal.

“Do you ever say anything good about the Jets?” a third wondered.

It reminded me of the been-there, done-that bad ol’ days. Only tamer.

Paul Friesen

Like Friesen, apparently I had bad manners. I declined to write about les Jets while wearing rose-tinted glasses and, upon their entry into the NHL in 1979, I refused to gloss over the reality that Winnipg HC was a talent-challenged outfit.

“Jets will win no more than 20 games this season,” I wrote in the Winnipeg Tribune.

I used some of those pesky facts to prop up my position, and predicted a last-place finish. Wouldn’t you know it? Les Jets collected exactly 20 Ws (good call) and 51 points to finish 18 shy of the playoffs.

Between their NHL baptism against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Oct. 10 and their final assignment vs. the Colorado Rockies on April 6 at the old barn on Maroons Road, I continued to write the truth and was called “a sawed-off little runt,” “a weasel,” “a scumbag” and “a child molester.” (Yes, they were that charming.) One reader threatened to put me in the hospital and another offered to ram a newspaper down my throat. (That surely would have required a hospital visit or, at the very least, the Heimlich maneuver from John Ferguson). Not surpisingly, I wasn’t invited to the Jets Booster Club picnic.

All of that was, of course, pre-Twitter, and I shudder to think what names they’d call me today. I’m pretty sure it would have something to do with female body parts.

John Shannon

Speaking of boobs, John Shannon of Sportsnet isn’t normally a “D’oh!” boy, but he totally lost the plot while delivering a hossana to Josh Morrissey, the Jets’ terrific young defender who scored in overtime last week. Morrissey “did what they expected him to do after signing that new, long-term deal,” Shannon said. To which all of Jets Nation says, “If only.” Morrissey, unfortunately, is on a two-year bridge contract.

I don’t think I’d enjoy working the Jets beat today. From what I understand, it’s very restrictive in terms of accessibility to players and management. We had open access back in the day. Rode the bus and planes with them. It wasn’t uncommon to call at player, coach or GM at home. It was a fun gig, especially in the World Hockey Association.

Did I pull a Rip Van Patti and fall asleep for 2 1/2 years? I mean, is this actually June 2021? I ask that because Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg has delivered a yawn-a-thon of a piece projecting les Jets’ protected list in advance of the 2021 Seattle expansion draft. Seriously? You want to have that discussion today? C’mon, man. Call me 24 months from now and we’ll talk.

Brooke Henderson

Quiz me this, kids: If a Canadian male golfer had won the Canadian Open and one other stop on the PGA Tour this year—and finished second in the season-long points race—would he be anointed our country’s top jock? As sure as Tiger Woods likes pretty blondes he would. There wouldn’t even be a discussion. Yet when Brooke Henderson does that very thing on the LPGA Tour, it isn’t good enough for the collection of unidentified news mooks who choose our country’s athlete of the year. She loses the vote for the Lou Marsh Trophy to Mikael Kingsbury, a guy from the niche world of moguls skiing. Two years ago, Henderson won twice—including the Women’s PGA Championship, which is an LPGA major—and lost the vote to a swimmer, Penny Oleksiak. So I ask this: How many tournaments must Brooke Henderson win before she warrants their approval?

Daniel Nestor

Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail provides some interesting insight into the goings-on of the Lou Marsh voting process, and mentions that he “stumped” for doubles tennis player Daniel Nestor. I don’t know if that was a revelation or a confession. Either way, what a total mook. I mean, thanks for dropping by, Cathal, but you cannot be serious, man. Nestor did one noteworthy thing this year. He quit. Otherwise, he was 8-21 with zero tournament titles. And he’s Kelly’s idea of our top jock? Up next: Kelly stumps for Adam Sandler as an Oscar winner.

Not to be out-dumbed, G&M sports editor Shawna Richer had herself a little hissy fit and left her ballot blank in protest over the decision to rule fancy skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir ineligible. So if you’re scoring at home, the main sports columnist at our national newspaper believes a guy who accomplished squat in the past 12 months is our top jock, and the sports editor at our national newspaper didn’t get her way so she (boo hoo) took her ball and went home. And we’re supposed to take this award seriously? (Just wondering: If the Globe and Mail has a sports editor, shouldn’t it also have a sports section?)

Canadian Football League outfits are dumping coaches, scouts and management at an alarming rate. We haven’t seen this kind of cost cutting since the suits at Postmedia lost their minds. I don’t know if the CFL is still a professional sports league or a thrift store.

Corey Chamblin

The United States has had 45 presidents in 229 years. The Tranna Argonauts have had 44 head coaches in 101 years. I’m not sure what that means, but I find it interesting.

If you want to know where the Argos rate on the pecking order with media in the Republic of Tranna, consider this: The day after Corey Chamblin was anointed the 44th sideline steward of the Boatmen, it was shoved back to Pages 9-10 in the Toronto Sun sports section. If that happened at either the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press after a head coach hiring with the Blue Bombers, someone would be fired.

So I turn on Sportsnet in the small hours of Wednesday morning to catch the NHL highlights, knowing six of the seven Canadian outfits were on the ice the night before. But what’s their top story? The Tranna Raptors. And here I thought this was a hockey country. Silly me. Anyway, I moved to the Sportsnet website to check out Jets coverage. Nothing. Not one word. On the entire main page. Nothing on the Ottawa Senators either. There were 32 articles/videos on the Raptors, Maple Leafs and Blue Jays, and just 18 for the rest of the country’s clubs combined. Here’s the story/video count:

Blue Jays  13
Leafs        10
Raptors      9
Oilers         9
Canucks     5
Habs          2
Flames       2
Senators     0
Jets             0

And, to think, some eastern scribes (I’m looking at you, Damien Cox) actually believe Tranna bias is like Sasquatch, the mythical creation of insecure western news snoops.

Danny Gallivan

And, finally, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna calls Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play fossil Bob Cole the “voice of a lifetime” and “the Hockey Sinatra.” Oh, please. Apparently he never heard Danny Gallivan call a game. No one did it like Gallivan. His voice was electric. His vocabulary immense. I still get chills when I hear his call of Guy Lafleur’s tying goal in Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal. “Lafleur, coming out rather gingerly on the right side…” Rather gingerly. Who says that? Only Gallivan. Bob Cole is the Hockey Sinatra like I’m Celine Dion.

About Mike O’Shea’s stubborn streak…clothes don’t make the coach…Kent Austin still has a job?…strange brew from a Postmedia scribe…and Genie’s charisma

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Mike O’Shea and Bill Belichick: Clothes don’t make the coach.

For the record, I think Mike O’Shea is a seriously flawed head coach.

His most notable wart would be his mule-like refusal to acknowledge blatant blunders. I mean, when a man makes a mistake and then tells the rabble that, yes, given the opportunity for a do-over he would make the same stupid gaffe again, he’s not someone who should have the nuclear codes.

But that’s O’Shea.

Did he learn from an ill-advised 61-yard field goal attempt that fell seven yards short of the target and ended the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season last November at B.C. Place Stadium? Nope. Three days after the fact, O’Shea advised news snoops that, “Yup, absolutely,” he’d ignore logic and again put his faith in Justin Medlock’s left leg.

Did he learn from an ill-advised faux punt that turned potential victory into defeat a little more than a week ago vs. the B.C. Lions? Nope. “We’d do it again,” he confirmed.

They say hindsight is 20/20 vision. I suppose it is. Unless your name is Mike O’Shea.

I swear, if it were up to O’Shea he’d have the Edsel back on the road. He’d say the guy at Decca records who rejected the Beatles made the right call. He’d let Custer have another go at all those Indians at the Little Big Horn.

So, ya, he’s stubborn like a Winnipeg winter is cold. It’s a flaw that, at some point, will likely cost him his job.

Until then, he’ll continue to keep us scratching our heads, and I’m guessing that he’ll keep doing it in a pair of short pants that somehow keep popping up as a talking point.

I’m sorry, but the significance of O’Shea’s pant legs escapes me. So the guy dresses like some shlub squatting on a street corner in Osborne Village, begging for nickels and dimes. Bill Belichick does, too. Even worse. He’s a hobo in a hoodie. But he’s also the best head coach in professional football. He’s just never let success go to his clothes, is all.

Jeff Reinebold: What a goof.

I can think of just one example of a coach’s wardrobe possibly impacting on team performance—Jeff Reinebold. He looked like a guy who got lost on his way to a beach volleyball game. He was a total goof-off. So were the Bombers under his watch. It was party time in flip-flops with Bob Marley until someone finally shot the sheriff, 32 games and 26 losses too late.

Calgary Stampeders 60, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats 0-5. Only win-free outfit in the Canadian Football League. Fewest points scored, most points allowed. And head coach Kent Austin still has a job? How is this possible?

Pet peeve: Broadcasters and reporters who describe a short kickoff as an “onside kick.” All kickoffs are onside. They have to be, otherwise there’d be a five-yard penalty. Is that picky of me? Ya, about as picky as people who talk about O’Shea’s short pants.

So, here are the head counts at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry for the Bombers this crusade: 30,165 (Calgary), 25,085 (Toronto Argonauts), 25,931 (Montreal Alouettes). Average attendance: 27,060. Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos play to larger audiences. This is a problem how?

In the D’oh! Department: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press refers to John Hufnagel and Wally Buono as “former coaches.” When last seen, Buono was standing on the B.C. Lions sideline and he wasn’t there as window dressing. He’s the Leos’ current, not former, head coach.

Some strange brew from Steve Simmons in his weekly three-dot column for Postmedia. Let me count the ways:

  1. He describes Ted Williams as baseball’s “greatest hitter ever.” Well, let’s see. The Postmedia columnist was born in 1957. He was barely out of the cradle the day Williams last swatted a baseball in 1960, hitting a dinger in his final Major League at-bat. I hardly think someone who was a three-year-old boy at the time and never once watched Williams play with the Boston Red Sox is qualified to determine anything about the Splendid Splinter.
  2. He writes this of three-down football: “I really wish the CFL faithful would stop telling people how many great games there are” Huh? You have a boffo product and you shouldn’t—repeat, should not—brag about it? And I thought Mike O’Shea said strange things.
  3. He writes this of women’s tennis: “The top tennis player in the world, according to the WTA, is Karolina Pliskova. The No. 5 player is Elina Svitolina. If either of those women knocked on your door and said hello, would have any idea who they were?” Well, Stevie, you’re supposedly the most-read sports columnist in Canada. If you knocked on my neighbor’s door and said hello, would she have any idea who you are?
Genie Bouchard

In the world according to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, tennis player Genie Bouchard is “this country’s most charismatic athlete.” Well, I’ve never met our girl Genie. Probably never will. So I can only go by what I’ve seen/heard/read on TV and the Internet, and she strikes me as sullen, guarded and totally lacking in charm. I can’t help but cheer for terrific young Canadian athletes like golfer Brooke Henderson and swimmer Penny Oleksiak, but I struggle mightily to root, root, root for our Genie. Henderson and Oleksiak are far more charismatic. So, too, is P.K. Subban. Henry Burris was charismatic. Pinball Clemons was the very definition of charismatic. Still is. Hey, I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, because I’m sure little girls flock to Genie. Just like they flock to Justin Bieber. It’s just that I find both her and him disagreeable.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

2016: It was very good year in the toy department

Top o’ the morning to you, 2016.

Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.

Chicago riots, 1968
Chicago riots, 1968

The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.

The black cloud that was 1968 also included…

  • North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
  • The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
  • Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
  • Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
  • American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
  • Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.

All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.

I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.

I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.

And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.

Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.

What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.

So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.

kaepernickOne of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.

You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.

You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.

You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.

Sour Hope Solo
Sour Hope Solo

All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.

Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.

You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

About the mother of all bad schedules…look who’s climbing the NHL’s all-time loser list…adios to Cam Cole…a Penny for your thoughts…dumb debates…the golden age of nothing…and fun sports writing

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

You want to talk about a tough schedule, kids (we all know Paul Maurice does)?

Well, let me tell you about the mother of all tough schedules. Then I don’t want to hear another word about what the Winnipeg Jets have endured in the first two-plus months of their current National Hockey League crusade.

shoe
A horrible schedule didn’t prevent captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg and the Winnipeg Jets from parading around the Winnipeg Arena with the World Avco Trophy.

Here’s the deal…

Beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Feb. 27 in the final World Hockey Association season (1978-79), the Jets played 30 games (17 road, 13 home). Do the math. That’s 30 assignments in 58 nights. At one point, they played five games in six nights (3-2) and eight games in 10 nights (4-4). Overall, they went 14-14-2. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the grind and unfairness of the schedule. We just spoke to its quirkiness.

During a wacky stretch in February, for example, we were in Cincinnati long enough to qualify as registered voters in the Ohio primaries. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:

Feb. 8: arrive Cincinnati
Feb. 9: play Cincinnati Stingers
Feb. 10: leave Cincinnati, play at New England Whalers
Feb. 11-13: return to Cincinnati; practice in Cincinnati
Feb. 14: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 15: leave Cincinnati
Feb. 16: play at Birmingham Bulls; return to Cincinnati
Feb. 17: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 18: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 19: return to Cincinnati
Feb. 20: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 21: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 22: fly to Birmingham
Feb. 23: play Birmingham Bulls
Feb. 24: fly to New England
Feb. 25: play New England
Feb. 26: fly home.

We spent more time in Cincinnati than Venus Flytrap and Dr. Johnny Fever (Google WKRP in Cincinnati, kids; it was a terrific sitcom). Our home base had become the Cincinnati Marriott. A couple of times, we weren’t required to pack our bags and check out of the hotel because we would be back in less than 24 hours.

Maybe we should all just have our mail delivered to us at the hotel,” silky-smooth centre Peter Sullivan quipped one day.

Some of us could recite the Marriott restaurant menu from memory.

By way of comparison, here’s how often, or seldom, the six WHA outfits played during that Jan. 1-Feb. 27 time frame:

mother-of-all-schedules

 

 

 

 

The Jets were so tuckered out from their 30-games-in-58-nights grind that they only managed to go 19-10 the rest of the way, finishing 11-8 down the regular-season stretch then 8-2 in the playoffs to win the final WHA title. That’s why I refuse to listen to any more whining about the current Jets’ tough schedule. I don’t want to hear it from Maurice, his players, his parrots in mainstream media, or fans. I’ve witnessed worse and saw it conclude with the best result possible.

Paul Maurice: Soon he'll be No. 3 on the NHL's all-time loser list.
Paul Maurice: Soon he’ll be No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

I’m not into fancy stats. I like my stats like my life: simple. Thus, I look at the numbers in the W and L columns and they tell me all I need to know about a head coach. And here’s what they tell me about Paul Maurice: He has the second-worst won-lost percentage of all active NHL head coaches who have been on the job more than a month and, by the close of business next spring, the Jets bench boss will be the third-losingest head coach in the history of the NHL. At present, he has 550 career losses. Another 12 and he’ll pass Ron Wilson to slide into the No. 3 slot. That, mind you, puts him in mighty fine company, because the only two men ahead of him on the loser list will be Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, both Hockey Hall of Famers. The difference, of course, is that Bowman and Arbour are also Nos. 1 and 3 on the all-time win list and they’ve coached nine and four Stanley Cup champions, respectively.

I was sold on Maurice when he worked wonders with the Jets in his first full whirl behind the bench. He got them into the Stanley Cup tournament. Two seasons later, he no longer is working wonders. Some, in fact, wonder how he’s still working. Worth considering is this: A number of the Jets young players will improve as they mature, but Maurice won’t ever be a better coach than he is today. If the head coach can’t grow with his players, when is the right time to dismiss him?

The best of jock journalism in Canada is no more. Cam Cole of Postmedia has arrived at trail’s end, after 41 years as a jock sniffer. Cam was never a ranter and raver like, say, his Postmedia colleague Steve Simmons, who believes he who squawks the loudest rules the day. Cam, a very nice man, most always wrote in reasoned, measured tones with a subtle wit, and he had a heck of a ride, showing up in time to write about both the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers dynasties. Cam’s retirement means the torch as our nation’s top jock columnist is passed to Bruce Arthur, who’s very socially conscious and actually injects humor into his scribblings for the Toronto Star.

The boys and girls in the toy departments of the land got it right in their salute to kid swimmer Penny Oleksiak as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. She struck gold in the pool at the Rio Summer Olympic Games and twice at the recent world short course championships. It was a no-brainer. I did, however, find it odd that Andre De Grasse was part of the Lou Marsh Trophy discussion. Yes, I realize his bromance with Usain Bolt in Rio was a warm-and-fuzzy Olympic storyline, but De Grasse never won a race. He finished second or third. Shouldn’t you actually have to win something before you warrant consideration as the True North’s top jock? There should have been just three athletes in that conversation: Oleksiak, hockey player Sidney Crosby and golfer Brooke Henderson.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

I don’t know about you, but I find the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine debate kind of silly. Go ahead and discuss which of the two is enjoying the better freshman season if you like, but to engage in a verbal to-and-fro over who will have the better NHL career is foolish in the extreme. Discuss that amongst yourselves when Matthews and Puck Finn have some mileage behind them. Like, in about 15 years.

Once again, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail has referred to this as the “golden age” of Canadian tennis and, once again, he has failed to explain himself. Yes, Milos Raonic is the world No. 3 on the men’s side, but he went another year without winning a tournament of significance. Genie Bouchard, meanwhile, has fallen off the grid. So, our premier men’s player can’t win the big match and our top female player can’t find her game. That’s what passes for a “golden age?”

Really enjoyed old friend Paul Friesen’s piece on the fictional Bud’s Diner in the Winnipeg Sun last week. It’s a nice, lighthearted piece that, although some might find hokey, shows imagination, creativity and a sense of humor, something that’s lacking in jock journalism. I was also pleased to see the return of my favorite Grumpets—Paul Wiecek and Steve Lyons—to the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages. Their Say What?! print chin-wag is light, breezy and often self-deprecating, with an appropriate amount of bite.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

The Elliotte Friedman Flub: Will the sports media cut athletes the same kind of slack?

So, Elliotte Friedman had a Bill Buckner d’oh moment.

He didn’t simply stumble in his clumsy call of the men’s 200-meter individual medley final on Thursday at the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. He performed a full-on face plant into the compost heap. Misidentifying Michael Phelps and declaring Ryan Lochte the gold-medal winner when, in fact, the latter finished a distant fifth is as bad a broadcasting blunder as you’re apt to hear.

What I find interesting, however, is the fallout to Friedman’s epic faux pas.

Elliotte Friedman
Elliotte Friedman

Basically, the CBC gab guy has been given a get-out-of-jail-free card. From 95 per cent of tweeters. And, more notably, from 100 per cent of his brethren in the toy department of Canada’s Fourth Estate. The prevailing theme seems to be, “Hey, stuff happens. Nothing to see here, folks. Let’s move along.”

That would be fine, except for one thing—sports scribes/chin-waggers are the first to brandish the pitchforks and torches whenever a professional athlete, coach, manager, commissioner (hello, Roger Goodell) or team owner stubs a toe.

Glossing over the Friedman Flub, as they have, is hypocrisy unharnessed.

I realize that jock journalists, most notably in the print stable, are loath to eat their own, and I’m not advocating the kicking of a good man when he’s down. But if they’re going to pick Friedman up, dust him off, smooth his clothing and apply salve to his emotional owies, should they not extend similar sympathies and kindnesses to the athletes they write and talk about?

We won’t hold our breath waiting for that to happen, though, will we?

Hey, I feel for Friedman, because once upon a time I was in the media. I know the demands and the stress levels. So I get it. The thing is, some have gone to ridiculous extremes in rallying ’round their crestfallen and contrite colleague.

A Dave Shoalts column in the Globe and Mail provides an example of the sugar coating.

Twenty-two minutes after that horrendous miscue, in which he confused gold-medal winner Michael Phelps for his fellow American swimmer Ryan Lochte for the entire race, Friedman went back to the CBC microphone and delivered a solid play-by-play call of Penny Oleksiak’s historic gold-medal win for Canada.”

Excuse me? Solid play-by-play? Friedman mistakenly referred to Oleksiak as Emily Overholt. But Shoalts added yet more sweetness, submitting the gaffe was a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Spare me.

Whatever became of telling it like it is in sports? Friedman screwed up. Royally. Not once but twice. And the fact he immediately delivered a mea culpa on air and on Twitter doesn’t erase that reality. Fact is, he had no choice but to apologize during the broadcast. I mean, he had the wrong guy winning the race, for cripes sake.

Some look at the kid-gloves handling of the Friedman Flub as a ripe example of us being a kinder, gentler, more polite people. Road apples! Imagine the reaction had this been an American broadcaster bungling the call of a race featuring two Canadian swimmers. We’d freak out. It would be Harold Reynolds revisited.

Billl Buckner's d'oh moment.
Billl Buckner’s d’oh moment.

Look, Elliotte Friedman has been a solid reporter for more than two decades and oft has served as the voice of reason when natterbugs Glenn Healy and P.J. Stock were speaking no known language on Hockey Night in Canada.

Does his Olympics gaffe undo a lifetime of quality work? No. But this might stick to him like infamy has stuck to Bill Buckner. Few remember that Buckner had 2,715 base hits and batted .300 or better seven times during his lengthy Major League Baseball career. For Buckner, it always comes back to a baseball dribbling through his legs in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Hopefully, Friedman will be more fortunate than Buckner and his gaffe won’t become his Mary’s Little Lamb. Whatever the case, the next time one of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism has the urge to cut an athlete a new butthole, I hope he/she remembers how they cut Friedman large slack.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.